DUSHANBE -- Tajik officials say they will allow Chinese farmers to rent hundreds of hectares of land in southern Tajikistan, RFE/RL's Tajik Service reports.
Tajik Agriculture Ministry spokesman Narzullo Dodoboev said on January 17 that the fields which will be rented are not currently being farmed and that Chinese farmers are ready to invest money and modern technology to make the fields productive and efficient.
He said that according to an agreement signed with Beijing officials, Chinese farmers will invest up to $2 million in the Rumi and Yovon districts of the southern Khatlon Province and their produce would be sold in Tajikistan.
Dodoboev said the length of the leases for the various tracts of farmland is from two to five years.
Some Tajik analysts say China is not actually interested in rehabilitating agricultural land in Tajikistan that has been damaged by erosion but wants to expand Chinese influence by setting up a base on Tajik territory.
Former Tajik Agriculture Minister Vahhob Vohidov told RFE/RL on January 17 that during the Soviet era Korean farmers from the USSR's Far East moved to Central Asia and grew rice. He said it was a good experience for Tajik farmers.
At the same time, Vohidov noted that the Chinese farmers will not be growing rice or any other new crop for Tajikistan. He said the Rumi and Yovon districts are good for growing cotton.
Vohidov said it is likely that Chinese just want to come and stay in Tajikistan like they are doing in Russia.
Tajik authorities last year wanted to allow Chinese farmers to rent some fields in Khatlon's Farkhor district, which borders Afghanistan, but because of security concerns changed their minds and proposed Rumi and Yovon instead.
Tajik officials say China has invested some $790 million in Tajikistan's economy in recent years.
In 2011, Tajikistan accepted Beijing's request to officially give some 1,100 square kilometers of Tajik territory to China. Because of that controversial agreement, many Tajiks are skeptical of any land deals with China.